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Sunak demands ban on protests at MPs’ homes and crackdown on ‘mob rule’

<span>Activists covered Rishi Sunak's mansion in oil black fabric in August last year.</span><span>Photograph: Greenpeace/Getty Images</span>
Activists covered Rishi Sunak's mansion in oil black fabric in August last year.Photograph: Greenpeace/Getty Images

Rishi Sunak is seeking to halt demonstrations outside MPs’ homes after telling senior police officers that the UK is descending into “mob rule”.

In comments that have concerned civil liberties groups, the prime minister also demanded a crackdown on protests outside parliament, political parties’ offices and town halls that may prevent use of a venue or “cause alarm harassment or distress”.

The move comes after a roundtable meeting with police chiefs on Wednesday in Downing Street to discuss how to handle the intimidation of MPs, candidates and councillors. Ministers have criticised regular mass protests, which have escalated over the Israel-Gaza conflict, and disruptive tactics used by groups such as Just Stop Oil.

Downing Street said ministers and senior police agreed to sign up to a new “democratic policing protocol” that would see police treat demonstrations outside MPs homes as “intimidatory”, a minimum standard of police response to demonstrations against MPs and guidance for officers policing protests and other “democratic” events.

During the meeting Sunak told police chiefs they had to demonstrate they would use the powers they already have, saying it was “vital for maintaining public confidence in the police”.

In a stark assessment of the UK’s political processes, he added: “There is a growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule. And we’ve got to collectively, all of us, change that urgently.

“But we also need to demonstrate more broadly to the public that you will use the powers you already have, the laws that you have.”

He said the policing protocol, which commits forces to additional patrols and “provides clarity that protests at elected representatives’ homes should be treated as intimidatory”, would protect democratic rule.

Tom Southerden, law and human rights director at Amnesty International UK, said Sunak’s hyperbolic language could lead to curbs in the right to protest. “Talk of ‘mob rule’ wildly exaggerates the issue and risks delegitimising the rights of peaceful protest,” he said.

“Freedom of expression and assembly are absolutely fundamental rights in any free and fair society. The UK has undergone a major crackdown on protest rights in recent years, with peaceful protest tactics being criminalised and the police being given sweeping powers to prevent protests taking place.”

Earlier in the day the organisers of pro-Palestinian marches in central London and the civil liberties group Liberty accused the government and MPs of seeking to curtail protest rights on false pretences and by focusing on a “hysteria” generated around the demonstrations.

Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that while they do not support protests outside MPs’ homes, a “narrative” that Islamist extremists were seeking to intimidate and harass MPs was being used to argue that the new laws were needed to restrict the right to protest.

On Tuesday, James Cleverly announced £31m in government funding for measures to protect MPs, including private bodyguards to provide round-the-clock protection for those at highest risk and security guards to be deployed at constituency events held by MPs.

Forces will provide additional patrols in communities at risk of “potential flashpoints” under the new protocol.

The protocol said: “Protests at the home addresses of elected representatives, including MPs and councillors, should generally be considered to be intimidatory, and the police have adequate powers, including section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, to direct protesters away.

“Protests at representatives’ parties’ offices, democratic venues (such as parliament or town halls) or at political events (such as constituency fundraisers or meetings) should not be allowed to (i) prevent or inhibit the use of the venue, attendance at the event or access to and from it or (ii) cause alarm, harassment or distress to attendees.”

There were also angry and chaotic scenes at Westminster last week after the Commons speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, was accused of scrapping the parliamentary rulebook over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, because of concerns about “threats” against MPs.

The government is facing a backlash from one of its own ministers who said a new £31m security package for MPs was “missing the point”. Mike Freer, the justice minister who has started to wear a stab vest to public events and will stand down at the next election because of threats to his safety, said the measures would “not actually [go] to the root cause” of why people felt emboldened to target MPs.

Freer, who represents a large Jewish community in Finchley and Golders Green in north London, said the extra funding did not address the underlying problem. “I kind of think it’s missing the point,” he told Times Radio. “More security is always welcome, but that’s only dealing with the symptom.

“It’s not actually going to the root cause. Why do people now feel emboldened to attack members of parliament, to demonstrate outside their homes where they’re intimidating their family? Not necessarily the MP, but their family.

“Why should their partners and their children have to put up with being frightened in their own home?

“So, security is welcome. But frankly, unless you get to the root cause, then you’re just going to have a ring of steel around MPs. And our whole style of democracy changes.”

The home of the Conservative backbencher Tobias Ellwood was targeted earlier this month by pro-Palestine protesters. The family homes of Sunak and Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, have also been visited by environmental activists in past months.

Two serving MPs, Labour’s Jo Cox and the Conservative’s David Amess, have been murdered in the past eight years, and reforms to the security of parliamentarians were introduced as a result of those killings.